Keep modeling the research says. Just keep modeling and one day your student will communicate. For the first time this year I started to have my doubts. I had modeled and done all the things the ‘speechies’ said to do. Yet one of my students was still not communicating beyond “I want”.
What was I doing Wrong?
Let’s consider what I was doing …
- modelling for a range of purposes
- always had a communication system available (you can download one here if you require one)
- conducted preference assessments
- ensured family and colleagues knew what the word of the week was
- led by example and encouraged staff to model
- modelled in whole group, small group and one-to-one
- modelled all day, everyday, in all contexts
- put up posters so everyone coming in to the room knew what the word of the week was and my expectation that they would model it
- utilised sabotage strategies
- used a range of resources to support the teaching of core words
- consulted with the speech pathologist
- utilised a range of lower level prompts to support him to extend his communicative attempts
- and we kept on modeling even when we weren’t sure if it would be successful
Still Not Communicating
Yet with all of these strategies in play, my student who showed such early potential, was still not communicating. I have taught this student for 18 months and he showed no progress. He was no further forward than when he arrived in my class. He is now 8 years old. We all knew he had potential to communicate much more. He had been intentional in his non-verbal communication strategies for years. He used a range of repair strategies to gain attention and did not stop trying to get his message across.
What else could I do?
The student began mimicking and rehearsing verbalisations out of contexts a few months ago. This caused us even more frustration as we waited for the impact of this to filter through to his use of symbols on the core board. But no! It didn’t happen. For the first time my support staff and I were feeling defeated. AND THEN. IT HAPPENED …
Suddenly, slowly but surely, my student began talking in context two weeks ago. Just a word here and there, but purposeful. More importantly he began to communicate on a core board for a range of purposes. Asking to go fast or slow on a merry go round. Communicating that he was going to go ‘fast on bike’. Using symbols to tell me to ‘wait’ when he did not want to stop a favoured activity. Asking me to be ‘quiet’ when he did not want to listen to me.
He got into a verbal one word argument with a support staff member. He had escaped out of the room then tried to tell me on the core board he ‘wait’. But the support staff replied ‘you didn’t’ and he quickly responded with a verbal ‘did’. This went on for a few rounds then he was asked to go to the bathroom. We had a grumpy look on our faces when talking with him. However, the instant he was following the instruction we turned to each other and fist pumped the air. Beaming!
Learning the power of communication
My student was very angry one day recently with a raised arm, hand in a fist, vocalising and rocking. We were doing morning greeting. I calmly modeled ‘are you saying you do not want a turn today?’ He hesitated then pointed to not want turn and stared directly in my eyes. I acknowledged his communication and scooted away to another student on my stool. He slowly lowered his arm, calmed himself and remained in the group. Since this happened, his verbal and picture symbol use has increased everyday.
The importance of modeling consistently even when we get no feedback has hit home. If we had stopped months ago and given up on this student he may never have turned into the successful communicator that he is becoming. Research tells us that it can take years of modeling for our students to learn. But keep modelling and it will happen. When the student is ready. (Read more about modeling here). I have learned my lesson and it is one I will always remember!
Posters to Support
I created some posters to inspire us all to keep modelling. I have included them free for you. DOWNLOAD HERE. I hope you get some use out of them.